For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Bronxites

Vous It Yous?

by Myles Schulberg


ome people care for many, some people care for a few. Without making a judgment call, I would say that Lenny’s grandmother definitely fell into the latter category.

Lenny, a friend of mine going back to elementary school, from the Morrisania section of the Bronx, attended college in the ‘60s down South. Our clique all attended Northern colleges and thought it quite a daring move on Lenny’s part to head south for college. It certainly was quite a departure from his Bronx Jewish neighborhood, but that’s exactly what Lenny wanted – to expand his horizons. His most rural previous exposure had been the Catskills. In fact, I’m sure that Lenny would have taken a cow, pig, or goat as nothing more than a large or strange breed of dog.

At the time Lenny started college, his parents were overseas, as his father worked for an international corporation and had been given a several-year assignment abroad. The Bronx apartment Lenny lived in not only housed Lenny’s parents and Lenny, but also Lenny’sYiddisha grandmother, an eighty-something widow. It was three-bedrooms and two-baths, a hard-to-find combination. With both Lenny’s parents and Lenny elsewhere, this was, in essence, Grandma’s apartment all by her lonesome. Although her daughter (Lenny’s aunt) lived a few blocks away and kept tabs on her, Grandma was in need of other company. Her prayers were soon answered. During winter break at Lenny’s college, several of Lenny’s new-found college buddies from below the Mason-Dixon line - Travis, Clint, and Bret, gentile, rural bred, and who had never been to, but wanted to see New York - converged upon Lenny to not only drive them to New York and be their guide, but to provide for their lodging at Lenny’s grandmother’s Bronx apartment (at no cost, of course). They knew about the empty bedrooms. Unbeknown to Lenny’s friends, he was planning on driving to New York anyway to see and provide company for Grandma. So Lenny acceded to his friends’ requests, coming off as a nice guy, but also making the friends agree to pay for their trip to and from New York, including gas and tolls, as well as his expenses while there, such as restaurants, admissions, etc. After all, free lodging in New York for his friends was a big dollar savings to them. Moreover, Lenny was an economics major.

Lenny called Grandma to tell her about the trip to New York and ask her about putting the group up in the apartment for the winter break. Grandma readily responded with, “For you, boychik, anything.” But for Lenny, it was doubtful that rednecks would have been welcomed into Grandma’s apartment. She could no more relate to these hicks than Lenny could relate to a cow, pig, or goat. However, to see her grandson Lenny, Grandma would make an exception.

The group drove to New York in Lenny’s car and spent a glorious time sightseeing, while lodging at Grandma’s apartment. Lenny was raised on and loved Jewish home-cooking, and that’s what Grandma served up to him and his buddies, oblivious to how such food as gefilte fish, chopped liver, flanken and their sort would play on gentile, rural palates. But most college-aged boys will eat anything, including the kitchen sink, and these strapping young adults were no exception and were all too happy to consume all that was put in front of them.

After several weeks, the winter break came to a close and the group, intoxicated with both good New York food, Jewish home-cooking or otherwise (they also ate out pizza, deli, and Italian, Chinese, Greek and other foods) and unique New York attractions like the Bronx Zoo, Bronx Botanical Gardens, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Empire State Building, Radio City and Rockefeller Plaza, Times Square, Broadway, Central Park and a buggy ride, a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden, Little Italy, Chinatown, the New York subways, Yankee and Shea Stadiums (eventless at that time of the year), the Staten Island ferry, planetarium, galleries, museums, etc., packed up, thanked Grandma and bade her farewell. They dragged their luggage from Grandma’s apartment down the elevator and out the lobby door, and loaded the bags into the trunk of Lenny’s car, which he had driven around to the front of the building. The trek back down South began.

Several hours into the trip, the group made a restroom-gas-food stop. Travis realized that his wallet was in his luggage. When Lenny opened the trunk for Travis so that he could access his luggage and wallet, Bret looked in and noticed his bag, brown in color, was not there. After a few seconds, it dawned on the now ashen-colored Bret that in the loading of the trunk, he had inadvertently left his bag on the sidewalk and it never got loaded. This was before the era of cell phones, so Lenny was quickly dispatched to a pay phone to call his grandmother.

Lenny dialed Grandma, and when she answered the phone, Lenny said, “Grandma, this is Lenny.” Rather than state there was a problem and get Grandma upset, Lenny continued on by saying, “Please do me a favor. A piece of brown luggage was accidentally left on the sidewalk this morning when we were loading the trunk and never got loaded. Could you check to see if it’s still there?” Grandma responded quickly and surely, asking, “Vous it yous?” “No,” Lenny replied, and rather than cite the name of whose bag it was, since Grandma couldn’t tell one goy from another, he simply said, “It’s one of the other guys’.” Without missing a beat, Grandma shot back, “Then who gives a crap.”


Grandma did check and it turned out that the building superintendent had come upon the luggage, taken it back to his apartment, and posted signs in the lobby about finding a brown piece of luggage. Grandma retrieved the bag and sent it to Lenny for his friend by UPS... paid for, of course, at Bret’s expense.

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